Forty-five minutes after the North Coast Section quarterfinal playoff game ended, and they had lost, the boys from the Richmond High School soccer team came out of their locker room and walked back toward the field. Still wearing their jerseys, under their red team jackets, they looked like they might be trying to play another match. Instead, the players slowly trickled to the center of the field and waited for their other teammates to catch up. Family and friends, who had braved the cool February night to cheer on the team, followed tentatively, holding blankets and hand-made signs.
The supporters settled around the edge of the yellow circle surrounding the large Red “R” at the center of the field, respectfully reserving the space in the middle for the players.
Inside the circle the players linked arms, waiting for their coaches to join them. There was a moment of quiet, no yelling from supporters from the stands, or the whistle of a train, just the cool air, and the buzzing of the stadium lights. And then, as one, they started to sing the team’s ritual pregame song, this time to close out the season:
Vamos vamos aceiteros!
Vamos vamos a ganar!
“Let’s go, Oilers. We’re going to win.”
Coaches and players jumped up and down, singing, circling the Richmond High logo, while the fans outside the circle stood silently.
Canta conmigo, con un amigo, vas a encontrar!
Que con la mano de dios, toda la vuelta vamos a dar!
“Sing with me, with a friend, you’re going to find
With God’s hands, we will go all the way around.”
And as the final line trailed into the sky, the sadness from the loss reemerged. Some players immediately lay on the ground, while other buried their faces into a teammate or coaches’ chest.
For years, this cheer has defined the Richmond High School boys’ soccer team. Players sing it at midfield before every home and away game, and it’s become more than just pre-game motivation. The song has become a reflection of the team’s place in Richmond. As they sang it Saturday night to close out their season, they were singing not just for their own closure, but for their efforts at bringing a little glory to their community.
With Hispanics and Latinos making up more than 80 percent of the students at Richmond High School, and approximately 40 percent of the city’s population, soccer has become the sport at Richmond High. But soccer has also become a signal of pride for players, coaches and supporters that want to change the image of the city.
“The point of winning [the North Coast Section playoffs] for us isn’t for just the glory, it is to show to everybody else, and our community, that we are doing it for them,” senior captain Cesar Cardenas said. “We are doing it for Richmond. Because we know that Richmond, it has a bad mark, but not everything bad comes out from it, there is also good. We like to think that we are one of the examples. So, for us, winning NCS is everything. It really is everything. There is nothing more to it because to get over a lot of the obstacles that exist here in Richmond, our community, making them proud is our biggest goal that we want to accomplish.”
The players carry a sense of history and tradition from the previous coaches and alumni of the program. The current squad has the benefit of locker rooms, a synthetic turf field and more importantly, respect from coaches and players in the area, something that had to be earned by the players who came through the program before them. The song is a reminder of how the program has changed for the better.
“Ten years ago nobody wanted to play Richmond High out here,” said co-head coach Jasko Begovic, after a match earlier in the season in Danville. “Rene [Siles] built a culture of integrity and respect, and when people play against Richmond High they didn’t just look at the kids as thugs. They are actually just people, kids that just love playing soccer.”
Saturday night’s opponent, San Ramon Valley High School, is from Danville, and in the past, might have been one of those teams. But after his team’s 3-1 victory, San Ramon head coach Don Busboom stood on the field after shaking hands with the Richmond players and coaches and praised his opponent, and co-head coach Siles.
“Rene has put together such a great program,” Busboom said. “Both sides play hard, play fair and play well and we’ve been fortunate to be on the winning side against a quality squad.”
After the post-game song at midfield, Siles said a few words, and then players and coaches lined up to face the few dozen supporters who had stayed.
Cardenas spoke first, in Spanish. He thanked the fans for their support all season, for sitting out in the cold during matches all winter, and for what they meant to the players.
Then Siles spoke, with Cardenas serving as a translator.
“It is a privilege to coach here. A lot of people think of Richmond as crimes, gangs and drugs, but that is not true,” Siles said. “These guys are the best thing to come out of Richmond.” He continued, “They are just like everyone else, they have the same hopes and dreams.”
Afterward, coaches and fans lingered. Family members and friends finally had the opportunity to talk to the players, and coaches Begovic and Siles sought out the most distraught among the players, hugging them and whispering in their ears.
The players then cleared the field, more than an hour after the game had ended.
For seniors Jorge Alvarez, Eduardo Bramvila, Cesar Cardenas, Erik Montes and Brian Ramos, it was the final time they would walk off the field as a Richmond High boys’ soccer player.
“It has been everything to me,” Cardenas said. “I have never been on a team that was so close. I have never been on a team where winning is everything, where what you represent is much more than the jersey, it is your whole community. And this field to me is sacred. Every time I come onto this field, whether it’s a game or it is practice, I take it like it is my last. It has always been a privilege to play for Richmond High. Saying that I am an Oiler. Saying that I am an aceitero. There is nothing that could beat that.”